LOS ANGELES — The 47th annual Grammy Awards show was finally a mostly satisfying exercise in demonstrating that the many genres of popular music are more alike and intertwined than they are different and isolated.
In the end, the show may have been more about traditional artists Ray Charles and Loretta Lynn than newer artists. From country’s point of view, Gretchen Wilson, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw received a considerable window of exposure. Still, the telecast explored artists reaching into country, from Los Lonely Boys to the blistering Southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Dickey Betts and Charles’ own pioneering country recordings.
At bottom, the Grammy Awards show is a mainstream network program that presents only 11 awards in the course of a three-hour-plus program. (And 107 Grammy awards are given in the pre-telecast and telecast, as opposed to 89 Emmy awards and 39 Oscars.)
That said, the telecast presented a credible window on today’s country music ranging from current matinee idol McGraw singing his hit “Live Like You Were Dying” to Lynn charming the audience with a glimpse of country music as it used to be, in a slower and more courtly age.
Urban took the occasion of a guest appearance on the Southern rock segment to give a showcase of his vocal and guitar pyrotechnics and seemed to have won over many new music industry fans, judging from hallway comments from artists and industry workers alike. Later backstage, guitar great Betts observed that his song “Ramblin’ Man” was rejected as “sounding psychedelic” when it was released in the 1970s. “Today,” Betts observed wryly, “‘Ramblin Man” is considered a country song.”
Wilson and Lynn were matching bookends of traditional women singers from different generations holding all the winning hands. Backstage at the awards show, Lynn said she respected Wilson because “she sings the same things I would like to be singing if I were starting out right today.” Wilson honored country legend Merle Kilgore, who died last week, by wearing a T-shirt inscribed “In Memory of Kilgore.”
A true country legend, Earl Scruggs won and was characteristically silent in his backstage appearance with fellow winners the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and his producer son Randy. They won best country instrumental performance honors for “Earl’s Breakdown,” a track from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. III. The Dirt Band’s John McEuen lauded Scruggs as a musical pioneer “who continues to be an inspiration to countless people.”
Ricky Skaggs very accurately described Brand New Strings, which won for best bluegrass album, as his first collection of mainly original and new songs in his string of bluegrass projects since he returned to the genre in 1996 from mainstream country.
“There were so many new bluegrass fans,” said Skaggs backstage, “that they didn’t know the bluegrass story. They didn’t know who Bill Monroe was, who Earl Scruggs was, who Ralph Stanley was. It was my job to teach them. But this new album has 11 of 13 new songs.”
Lynn held the press corps in the palm of her hand with little stories about recording Van Lear Rose with rock star Jack White as producer. With White standing beside her backstage, she said “Me and Jack never dreamed when we started this that we’d get a Grammy, did we?” White chimed in with a “no, ma’am” — a reply he would reprise throughout their appearance.
White said his task was to “take her songs and try to arrange them to bring out the soulfulness of Loretta, which I love. It’s about the soul inside Loretta.”
Lynn noted her two new awards this year raised her Grammy total to three.
“I won one with Conway [Twitty] in 1971,” she explained, “but I dropped it in the L.A. airport and broke it. I won’t drop these.”